AN: The journey through AUs, side-stories, missing scenes, and spin-offs begins here! Our first non-standard story is below.
Welcome to the Trousers of Time, where someone accidentally falls through a worn-out hole in the denim and hops over to the other leg for a bit.
Overall, I'd have to rate my most recent trip through a space-time ninjutsu as a four out of ten. Sensei's was awesome, of course, but Obito's dimensional door—sort of a cosmic drain—involved less of a contortion sensation. Meaning that I felt less like a pipe-cleaner. On the other hand, apparently mixing poisons meant something stupid was inevitably going to follow. Dizziness, nausea, total loss of kinesthetic awareness of up and down...
I landed flat on my face, feeling the world spin around me like a kaleidoscope in a stained glass gallery.
I hate teleportation. Hate. Hate. HATE.
Because of course I needed to get my bearings anyway, I clambered up onto all fours about twenty seconds later. This was only after my stomach stopped acting like it wanted to crawl up out of my throat and make a break for the nearby grass. The sensation was pretty hard to ignore.
I groaned quietly, lifting one hand to my face to pinch myself. Maybe I'd get feeling back in a minute or two…
First, I sat back on my heels, wobbling a bit as I went from there and eventually got to my feet. I needed a moment, leaning on a tree, to finally clear my head and stop feeling like my inner ear had been put through a blender.
What the hell was that? Isobu asked, voice warbling a bit in my head.
I don't know. Obito and Sensei shouldn't try looking both ways at once? And maybe I shouldn't get caught up in their stupid moments as often. Sensei's were rare; Obito's were not. Therefore, probability suggested that I would just be better off waiting for the stupid to pass me by.
It was brutal enough to send me spinning. Isobu said reproachfully. In my mind's eye, his formerly peaceful icy bay had turned into what looked more like a whirlpool. Or maybe something a park ranger would call "the Devil's Cauldron," if the devil in question was a giant crab-turtle. I was pretty sure the spinning was more my fault than his, though.
Sorry. I mumbled mentally, blinking rapidly as I scanned the area for any indication of where I was.
That was one of those things that was harder than it had to be. While checking the local foliage told me that I was somewhere south of Konoha, some higher power had apparently decided that today's fog wasn't gonna burn off. The sun was definitely up, but that was about as much as I could say.
...I hate to say it, but I can't tell where we are. I could feel Isobu's chakra piggybacking on mine, peeking out through my eyes. Try extending your chakra...that way. This mist feels strange. Unnatural.
If the Water-specialized Tailed Beast said the mist was unnatural, I was going to go with it.
I instead channeled chakra into my hand, bit my thumb, and then summoned Tsuruya.
She appeared in a gigantic burst of smoke right next to me, since a four-meter bird with a ten-meter wingspan took up a lot of space.
"Keisuke-sama?" Tsuruya asked, peering around at the encroaching mist. Then she focused her dark eyes on me and said, "Something very strange just happened. I feel as though many years passed in a single wingbeat…"
"...It might have," I said carefully, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up.
Don't look at me. I'm immortal.
"This place feels very strange," Tsuruya repeated, quieter.
"Yeah, it is. Can you give me a quick lift? You might feel better in the air." I suggested. Not that I meant to be insensitive but...well, we had things going on. I was freaked out, but I had to be sure of what was going on before I could curl into a ball and quietly panic.
Tsuruya bowed her head and folded her legs underneath her so I could easily climb onto her back. I tried not to pull too many of her feathers on her way up.
And then we were off into the air, Tsuruya's wings scattering the nearby mist.
The mist, which was infused with enough chakra to confirm it as a jutsu, seemed to have a range of about one kilometer (with allowances made for wind drift). Knowing what I did about weather, though, made me wonder if the caster was in the epicenter or hanging around somewhere upwind. Ordinary mist could be many kilometers wide and deep, sort of like if a cloud dropped onto the ground.
And besides, someone was putting it out, and several other people were running around in it like headless chickens. Water, wind-something, fire-lightning, earth-something...? That was a bit of a mix...
Do you want to investigate?
I don't see how we have any choice. I replied. Staying in one spot to be found again is a great idea in theory, but not when there's a fight going on. Aloud, I said to Tsuruya, "Fly toward the source of the mist. We need to find out what's going on, and I don't mind having to beat the answers out of people."
"Of course, Keisuke-sama," Tsuruya said, and then we were off.
It didn't seem like we flew for all that long. I'd never actually tested Tsuruya's "sprint" speed, but I was starting to get the impression that she was fast enough to make most other flying summon animals look like slugs.
We blew into the epicenter of the mist with all the subtlety of a tornado touching down, slashing the jutsu itself to shreds and exposing it all to bright sunlight.
On some days, I thought of that quote. The one that goes, "Meddle not in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger." It's a good quote, though I could never remember where it had first come from.
And then there were days where a thought pinged off the control panel in my brain and hit the big red angry button on the way down. On days like that, I thought, "Fuck subtle."
I didn't even understand why I was so angry for a good two seconds after sliding off Tsuruya's back, with a strong sense of déjà vu crawling up and down my spine. I mean, I was still motion-sick and just kind of mad at my situation, and so I was irritable on principle alone. But then I realized what was going on.
The clearing was far from empty. It was ringed by trees, sure, but they were common compared to the great Hashirama varieties I was used to. The air was cold and tingled faintly with chakra, since the jutsu I had dispelled was the clingy sort. Thanks to Tsuruya, the mist wasn't nearly as thick, and I could finally see.
The first person I spotted was an old man, probably about the age of the Third Hokage, sans about ten years. He wore a straw hat and small, circular glasses, and dressed like pretty much any random peasant in the Land of Fire. He smelled faintly of alcohol, but I was pretty sure it was because of the hip jug (not flask) that he had at his waist.
The next person I identified-well, no. Let's just say that I saw all three at once. It'd make things easier.
A pink-haired girl in a red dress, a tiny blond boy dressed mostly in orange, and then a blue-wearing boy with dark hair that spiked upward in a style I would first describe as "duck-butt" and second as "obviously Uchiha." If it wasn't for the fan on his back and all. If I had to guess, they looked like they were between the ages of eleven and thirteen, where puberty hadn't kicked in yet and seemed like it was only beginning to entertain the idea.
And then. Out in the middle of the lake.
One half-naked guy with a sword shaped like an oversized butter knife, and then one white-haired idiot stuck in a Water Prison.
I skipped the slack-jawed stage of shock and went straight to jaded irritation. I'd been working on that reaction for a while, since it looked cooler to appear unflappable.
And besides, a cool entrance would be totally ruined by what would have been my honest emotional response.
I fucking HATE my life.
I take it the bird was right? Isobu asked.
Isobu-san, I said with rapidly thinning patience, I have not only been transported a good hundred kilometers from my last known location. No. Because that would be too easy. I am now thirteen years into the FUTURE.
"Keisuke-sama?" Tsuruya asked, concerned by my sudden silence. I was, after all, generally a bit chattier after sudden entrances.
I could feel my left eye start to twitch. And still, my voice remained steady. "Tsuruya, kill the water clones and keep the mist off us. I'm going after tall, dark, and ugly."
Tsuruya gave me a hesitant second glance—with a demon turtle renting out space in my soul, there was always a chance I'd literally explode with rage—before nodding once.
Isobu interrupted then, more curious than concerned. As the other fuse to this bomb, he knew better than anyone how long my temper could be stretched. Any extreme reactions would be half his fault, anyway. How can you tell that it's been thirteen years? Humans all tend to look the same to me.
Because that, I said, focusing my attention on the man in the bubble, is something that happens way in the goddamn future, and THAT is my teammate.
You aren't making sense.
Oh fucking well.
"And you call yourself a jōnin?" I called out, striding forward. "You've fallen a long way if you're just beating on genin now!"
Sakura, Sasuke, and Naruto were barely genin. They'd been in the game for what, a month? The Wave mission was supposed to be their wakeup call.
And look at me, crashing their show.
"Another little Konoha brat?" Zabuza's voice was audible clear across the water, which had probably gone still because of the Water Prison. The technique was difficult at the best of times, and he was tied up just trying to keep Kakashi—older Kakashi, anyway—contained in it. If he let go, my ex-maybe-teammate would pull his liver out. "At least this one's read the bingo book."
"Special jōnin. I'd be an idiot if I didn't." Well, almost a special jōnin. Stupid paperwork.
I saw Zabuza's eyes narrow. Kakashi, I noticed distantly, hadn't said or done anything to indicate he was surprised by my presence. No point in giving up the ghost, right? And I couldn't even be sure he recognized me.
Then again, he couldn't move. What the hell was I expecting him to do?
"So, a tree-hugger special jōnin thinks he can take me on." Zabuza's voice seemed to roll, pitching downward. I'd probably insulted him.
Behind me, I heard and felt several clones explode in the face of Tsuruya's Air Cutter jutsu.
Lips tilting upward in something that somehow didn't become a smile, I put a hand on the hilt of my mother's katana. "I don't think so. I know so." The hell I did. Zabuza was older, stronger, probably faster, and had at least twice as many years of shinobi combat under his belt.
I had just challenged a friggin' Kiri jōnin, and my only backup was a pack of genin who couldn't know who I was, a giant bird, an old man, and a turtle.
...Though the turtle certainly swung the scales my way, nothing else did.
Only call on me if you're about to die. Isobu suggested.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, I told him sarcastically.
It was one. I don't think you'll need me. Much.
Sane people expect a person with a sword to attack with it. I might have been one of them, most of the time, and played into that expectation. I was actually pretty good at faking it.
I dropped my sword in between one blink and the next, sending it spinning back toward Tsuruya, and launched into a seal-less Body Flicker. I didn't check to see what happened to it, but I had confidence in my other skills carrying the day.
I keep describing myself as a kenjutsu specialist. Or letting other people do it. The thing is, I'm not.
I'm a combat specialist. I know how to make things explode at will. I can use a sword. I can use every projectile weapon I carry, and I can use any of a dozen highly devastating high-powered ninjutsu with near-impunity compared to most of my peers. I have the Three-Tailed Beast as backup.
And I knew what I was doing, when Zabuza didn't have half a clue what I could come up with.
I pulled out of the jutsu half a meter from Zabuza's left foot, already spinning on the water while supported by only one hand. Might as well go for a leg sweep, right?
Zabuza jumped, but he couldn't run very far. Having to keep one arm inside the Water Prison, while Tsuruya popped his water clones like water balloons, was a handicap he could only afford when scaring a bunch of genin.
I wasn't half as nice. Or as slow.
I created a quick water clone of my own, sending it under the Water Prison and using it to corner Zabuza.
And then I leapt over the sphere myself and aimed a kick at his head. He blocked with his sword, Kubikiribōchō, which showed that he was at least taking me halfway seriously. In theory.
And if I pushed enough chakra into the kick, at the right angle, to form a Rasengan coming off my foot...well.
That was about to be someone else's problem.
Also, it turns out that even my cut-down variants of the Rasengan can launch a man five meters straight down! Who knew?
And he didn't explode into a water clone, meaning that I'd got the real one with that attack. It was difficult to use a Replacement with one hand or no seals (even if I'd managed it by the time I was nine…), and Zabuza had never struck me as the type who could. Mostly because he insisted on dodging Naruto's little kunai gamble.
Then the Water Prison gave way, and Kakashi stood up on the surface of the lake.
Madre de dios, it had definitely been at least ten years past my point in the timeline. Kakashi was a whole head taller than me and his chakra, no longer obscured by the Water Prison, set my teeth on edge just from the feedback I got. And he wasn't using the Chidori either! I could also see his eye—and the long, vertical scar bisecting it. Which my Kakashi didn't have.
This wasn't even my timeline. Never mind time travel, I'd apparently upgraded to slider.
Your luck does nothing by halves, does it? Isobu asked.
"Get back to the shore," Kakashi ordered, apparently trusting my Konoha headband and the fact that I'd charged an adult jōnin for his sake.
...I might have in the same circumstances. Might have. Just, uh, maybe not enough to trust my hapless students to a complete stranger, if I had any.
Oh well. I obeyed, not just because this Kakashi probably would have killed me without a second thought if he even suspected I was a threat. I happened to have also left my mother's katana in the hands of my summoned partner, and I needed to go see how she was doing with it.
Kakashi Hatake is not a stupid man.
He is not going to make the same mistake with Zabuza twice.
While the arrival of the walking armory of a special jōnin is welcome, Kakashi doesn't plan on leaving that issue unaddressed. The problem he faces is that Zabuza has successfully wasted more chakra than Kakashi is comfortable with, and he has no interest in collapsing at the end of the day without killing the missing-nin.
He doesn't know where the fuck this miniature special jōnin came from, but he's willing to take a chance for right now. Kakashi is certain he can defeat Zabuza. Making it back to Tazuna's house after doing so would be iffy in comparison.
"Understood, captain," the special jōnin says, stepping backward and out of range. "Falling back."
Kakashi glances back, does a quick assessment.
One-point-six-two meters tall, black hair, dark eyes and face-bisecting scar between, Konoha uniform, older flak jacket style. Scroll holsters instead of kunai holsters—sealing specialist?—and heavy steel arm-guards wrapping over hands. Androgynous face and build, ambiguous-if-possibly-feminine voice.
Probably still capable of killing a few water clones. The crane will be if its master isn't.
And he'll deal with them both later.
Right after Zabuza got carted away by his lackey right under the noses of the Konoha-nin—except me, since I'm both prescient and paranoid—older-Kakashi fell flat on his face and didn't get up again.
I, along with Kakashi's team and his client, ran right over after that. A quick diagnostic check confirmed that he still had the stamina problem I expected, which led to the aforementioned dead faint. Not exactly the behavior expected of a veteran jōnin.
"If he does this again, he'll get you killed," I muttered under my breath as I started assessing the situation. Shit. Had to get Kakashi to someplace dry and warm and with food…
"Hey, hey, who are you supposed to be?" Naruto demanded, bouncing up to my elbow. "How'd you know about our mission?"
"Uh." I was in the middle of hauling Kakashi's arm up over my shoulder. Twelve years and puberty adding muscle mass meant that it was a lot harder than I remembered. "Gimme a sec… Tsuruya, could you lean down a bit more?"
"Of course, Keisuke-sama," Tsuruya said, and folded her legs neatly underneath her. She also moved her wings out of the way so that I could make an adult jōnin fit on her back.
"Keisuke?" Sakura asked. "Is that your name?"
"Yep." Once Kakashi was secure (ish), I signaled for Tsuruya to stand again. Then I made a show of turning to face the trio of Kakashi's genin and crossing my arms, and said, "Actually, who are you supposed to be?"
"I asked first!" Naruto shot back immediately. "I'm Naruto Uzumaki, and I'm going to be Hokage someday."
"…Huh. And you're an Uchiha," I said, eying Sasuke. "The fan's a dead giveaway."
I watched Sasuke bristle, though I didn't focus on his reaction for long. After reading my timeline's Kakashi's body language for the last five years, I had solid experience in dealing with his personality type.
"He's Sasuke, but enough about him," Naruto said. "Answer the question!"
I shrugged. "You can call me Keisuke-senpai. Or Kei." Change the topic, change the topic… "But I…actually don't know what you're doing here."
Sakura looked confused. "Then how did you know that we'd be here?"
"He didn't," Sasuke concluded flatly.
I looked at Tsuruya. The crane tilted her head to the side before saying, "We were actually investigating this strange mist. Keisuke-sama and I decided to come this way when we ran into your conflict with…Momochi-san? I believe that was his name."
"So, what was your mission anyway?" I asked. I already knew. Things that lived under damp rocks probably knew their mission by this point, but…
"That would be me," Tazuna said, and I gave him a long, assessing look. Old man, civilian, miniscule chakra flaring with just-passing panic. Huh.
For some reason, I couldn't easily visualize the whole story that went with this man. Other than the problem with the bridge, and then two Kiri missing-nin. There was something important I wasn't bothering with…
It'll return sooner or later. I can search for it. Isobu suggested.
"So, a guard mission?" I faked thinking aloud pretty well. I'd always been a natural at playing at ignorance. "Okay. How about I stick around until your sensei gets up? Then we can decide if I join in or I need to be run out of town with pitchforks."
That seemed to work on them, at least.
No guarantees if it'd work worth a damn on the man himself, but...well, I'd burn that bridge when I got there.
Kakashi wakes to an unfamiliar ceiling, under a heated blanket. Someone moved his headband back over his Sharingan at some point, so he's lost binocular vision again (woo), but at least his headache is less horrible. His chakra levels are barely enough for him to remain conscious, irritatingly enough.
But he manages to turn his head anyway, and ends up seeing a black-haired woman just as she places a bowl with a wet washcloth next to his head.
"Oh, you're finally awake!" she says.
"I am. Though…" I can't get up. "I need to speak to my students"—cut off by a yawn—"as soon as possible."
"Are you sure? The other shinobi seems to be busy with them at the moment."
So the special jōnin did follow them. He's been wondering if that would happen. On the rare occasions he's been awake recently, anyway.
"I'm sure. I need to talk to"—what was the pipsqueak's name?—"my team as soon as I can, though."
Soon enough, all of his little minions troop into the room. Including the older one, newly acquired and generally looking a little defensive. Why is that?
Kakashi narrows his eye and says, very clearly, "Name and registration number."
The special jōnin is sitting on the only table in the room, in blunt defiance of this mysterious thing called "manners." His genin are between him and the stranger, arrayed defensively even if they're facing the wrong way. Ah, kids. The self-identified special jōnin says, "Ninja registration number 010871. The name's Keisuke, if that means anything to you."
Probably a boy, then. Would be awkward to guess out loud and get it wrong, though…
Keisuke is staring at him. Kakashi stares back, suspicious despite the quick recital. The numbers are wrong—too old for someone who barely looks older than Sasuke. And most Konoha shinobi have family names.
"So, question: How many years has it been since the Third Shinobi World War ended?" asks Keisuke, expression suddenly more serious.
"Thirteen," Kakashi says. "Checking for a concussion?"
"You could have checked while I was unconscious," Kakashi points out.
"I don't need a sleep-fighting jōnin punching my teeth out," Keisuke replies flatly. "But now that I'm pretty sure you're not going to, I have to ask you a follow-up." The special jōnin looks at Naruto and says, "Show him the thing I gave you."
"Huh?" Naruto fumbles with his kunai holster for a second. Smart of this kid to ask one of Kakashi's genin to hold onto something that will probably turn out to be a weapon. Even if he's chakra-exhausted, he's not going to thump Naruto for something that Keisuke put him up to. "Oh, okay. It's just a funny kunai though…"
Kakashi freezes, just for a second.
It's a kunai. Of course it's a kunai. But it's a very unusual one—one with three pointed prongs and a handle wrapped in vellum instead of cloth or leather. Naruto has his index finger through the loop on the hit, giving Kakashi a perfect view of the black script down the side of it.
It's a Flying Thunder God kunai. And it looks nearly new.
"Thought you'd recognize that," Keisuke says blandly. "At least, if you're Kakashi Hatake and not some twin I never heard of."
Infiltrator. Has to be. There are no pristine Flying Thunder God seals anymore, not without breaking into some kind of memorial for Minato Namikaze. And he doesn't know who this special jōnin is, where the hell someone could get a kunai without breaking into someplace secure, and he still can't move.
"Where did you get it?" Kakashi asks, sharper than intended. His students look at him, more confused than anything.
What do they teach kids nowadays? The Academy's fallen farther than he remembers. But then, he only attended for about a year anyway.
Keisuke's eyes narrow a bit. "My teacher. And I have a feeling it's been a lot more than a few hours since I've seen him."
The Flying Thunder God jutsu is a type of space-time ninjutsu. Those are rare precisely because they're unstable and difficult to control. Kakashi's read some reports in the past about summoning jutsu gone wrong, or maybe earlier attempts to do what Minato-sensei could have done in his sleep once he knew what formula to use.
"I was the last student that man ever had," Kakashi says, voice surprisingly level.
"Yeah, I was going to ask about that," Keisuke replies, eyes oddly dark. "Your eye has a long scar that goes this way." The special jōnin gestures to indicate some kind of scar over his (her?) left eye, mirroring the line over Kakashi's Sharingan.
"…And?" Kakashi prompts. He can feel the hairs on the back of his neck rising. Something is even more wrong here. Plenty is already, but there's some angle he can't quite grasp…
"The Kakashi I know doesn't have it," Keisuke responds.
"Sensei, what are you guys talking about?" Naruto bursts into the conversation. Belatedly, Kakashi realizes that, oh right, all of his genin are in the room.
What with the lack of violence and surplus of tension, he came pretty close to forgetting that little fact.
Keisuke sits back, though, point apparently made.
…Kakashi decides to let the topic go with that, but reserves the right to an interrogation later. Preferably sooner rather than later. Imminently soon.
"Sasuke, Sakura, Naruto," Kakashi says in a far more pleasant tone. Turning the cheerfully irreverent and spacy sensei routine back on is easy enough, even if Sasuke probably won't fall for it. Whatever. He'll deal with the Uchiha later. "Start patrolling."
"What for?" Naruto asks. "That Zabuza guy has to be dead, right? You said he would be!"
Oh, the naïve days of youth. Kakashi doesn't even remember what those felt like. (From Keisuke's expression, the special jōnin is nearly as distant from the roughhousing genin days as he is. At least the intense look is gone.)
Naruto is promptly punched in the back of the head.
"Naruto, you idiot! We already talked about that with Keisuke-senpai!" Sakura shouts as she vents her frustration for all to hear.
"We already got started," Sasuke says, since no one else seems to be interested in answering.
"Then go finish!" Kakashi orders brightly, making all of his kids scowl at once. Hah.
The genin troop out after a moment or two more, bickering loudly all the way. Sakura shoots him a quick look as she leaves, looking back and forth between him and Keisuke, and so does Sasuke. Naruto, trusting idiot that he is, does not.
He manages to move an arm enough to vaguely wave them off. Still feels like hell warmed over, though.
"I didn't mention that the Kakashi I knew was about twenty centimeters shorter, either," Keisuke comments into the silence. "They'll figure out what I meant sometime."
"So, what are you?" Kakashi asks, deciding to let that comment slide. Chances are he'll find out in a minute. Keisuke strikes him as the type who wants to talk, and bounces cryptic commentary off of people just to see how they react.
He should know. He's been that way for years now. Concentrated into the last month tenfold, though. Who knew having kids would be so much fun?
Keisuke sighs, and Kakashi watches as the stiff defensiveness evaporates from the younger ninja's frame. Keisuke sighs again, mostly looking tired. Bingo. "I…think I time traveled. Diagonally. Next time someone asks if I want to help their stupid space-time ninjutsu experiments along, I'm going to run to the next country and hide under a rock."
Kakashi is not a philosopher. He doesn't bother with certain branches of physics primarily because they're impractical to the point of uselessness. While space-time ninjutsu is not necessarily on that list, time travel is. He's always been of the opinion that if it did exist, his future self would have showed up sometime in the past to punch out his younger self for some of the decisions he'd made. Since this never happened—and knowing his own personality as well as he does—he dismisses the possibility out of hand.
That said, he isn't…quite sure.
Because while Keisuke could easily be delusional or simply a talented liar—the acting job was pretty decent, though not perfect—he's willing to allow that the rookie believes what's being said. Kakashi simply doesn't think that he does.
"So you actually are a Konoha-nin," Kakashi says. He wishes he could sit up and maybe outline a chart to describe his train of thought. Because this should be an impossibility.
"Yeah. But the number might've made it a bit obvious that I'm not from around here," Keisuke replies. "I think the kids have registration numbers a good thousand or so higher than mine."
Kakashi makes a noncommittal noise. Keep the rookie talking… "So. How did you get this kunai?"
"From the source, where else?" Keisuke snorts. "It's only been a few months since the end of the Third Shinobi World War from my perspective. I'm betting something happened to the Fourth Hokage, though. Otherwise you wouldn't have been so shocked to see one."
Not a bad guess. But one that hurt like a bitch anyway.
"The Uchiha kid is pissy in a way that I've literally never seen before," Keisuke continues, chin in hand. The special jōnin actually looks defeated, surprisingly. Still might be an imposter or an actor, but Kakashi starts to entertain the idea that the pieces actually do add up to a coherent whole. It'd be nice if he knew what the puzzle in question is supposed to look like, though. "Uzumaki says he's an orphan. I have no idea what Sakura's deal is, but I do know that the Uchiha are a big clan and that there's only one woman in Konoha with the surname Uzumaki. And I'm banking on something big happening to them, too."
Bull's eye. Kakashi sighs deeply, because there is so much brainpower and deductive reasoning going on behind that flat, dark stare. What a waste of an intelligent shinobi.
Keisuke stares back. "You don't believe me."
"Nope!" Kakashi says, in a slightly-more-chipper-than-needed tone. Might as well humor the rookie somehow.
Keisuke's gaze is flat. "That wasn't funny when Obito did it either."
Oh, look. The ice down the spine sensation. Welcome back, old friend.
Kakashi goes cold all over, from combined anger and shock. There was no way. "How do you know that name?"
"I'm a Konoha-nin who operated through the end of the Third Shinobi World War, knew Minato Namikaze well enough to get one of his kunai, and I know the other version of you pretty well. I learned the Rasengan from the master himself. I tried learning medical ninjutsu alongside Rin Nohara before I got left behind." Keisuke's voice rose a little in irritation. "I was in the same graduating class as he was. We were friends."
And that would explain the discrepancy in numbers. Obito's is…well, had been pretty close to that.
Okay, so Keisuke argues a decent point. Kakashi still isn't willing to give up entirely.
"I could be a fraud somehow, I guess. I don't know if there is a Keisuke Gekkō in this reality. Slider luck doesn't work like that." Keisuke shrugged, looking more defeated by the minute. "Know anyone with that name, Captain?"
"Just one." Hayate Gekkō had been a promising special jōnin, at least up until the accident. And then he kept his rank and compensated for his scarred lungs forever after. "He doesn't have any family."
Keisuke sighs again. Can it be possible to actually get tired of sighing? "Would be too much to ask for just that. Thanks for pegging the timeline for me, though. Shit. Hayate's probably as old as you are and engaged or something by now. Freaking time travel bullshit…" The special jōnin takes off the headband wrapped around the mop that could charitably be called a hairstyle, running fingers through the tangles. "Look, if I stick around and help you mop up Tall, Dark, and Ugly, are you going to stick me in T and I if I follow you back like a lost puppy?"
"That depends on a few things. First of all, whether it's actually necessary," Kakashi says, deciding to address the issues there one at a time. "I suspected that Zabuza was somehow still alive since I woke up. You're willing to take him on again?"
"Good. Saves me some of the workload," Kakashi still can't sit up, or else he would be folding his arms into a dramatic thinking pose because he can. But he can't. "Are you going to follow us back?"
"Probably. Konoha's what I know," Keisuke replies, looking out the room's sole window for a moment in apparent thought. "It's home, even if it's different."
"I can point you toward the Hokage. But your record will have to stand for itself even if you talk it up," Kakashi tells her. "Keep that in mind."
"Point." Keisuke eyes him, sitting back a little. "I can't even convince you that I'm not crazy. This is going to suck."
"Crazy doesn't mean wrong," Kakashi says.
Though sometimes he wishes it always did. Consistency is nice when it happens.
Keisuke grunts something. Then, "Oh, whatever. It'll happen when it happens." She gets to her feet. "I'll get your kids back up to speed with things and see if I can't train them while you're doing a corpse impression. We have maybe a week before the Kiri-nin should be able to hobble with that sword of his."
Funny. That's what he was about to say.
"Rest up, Captain. I'm not beating Zabuza down on my own unless you drop dead. Which isn't gonna happen."
"Sounds like a plan. But…Captain?" Kakashi asks, curious but also slip-sliding into sleep again. He feels like he can trust this teenage explosive tag, just enough that he's not afraid to try and recover. He has something over her. It helps.
"I followed a thirteen-year-old jōnin into hell once." Or twice. Or more. Keisuke didn't actually say much, even if the little ninja used a ton of words to say it in. "Figure I can do it again, even if you're old now."
I hadn't really thought about trying to train a gaggle of teenagers. I mean, I was still a teenager too. No one in their right mind would assign me any major responsibilities with genin unless it was a mission—special jōnin or not, making newbies listen to me was something that came with time and vertical height. Which I didn't really have—puberty was hitting me somewhat later than it had last time.
I scratched my head.
New teenager genin. Also, new teenagers. New genin, too, but also teenagers.
I tied my Konoha headscarf back over my hair, then ventured into the lion's den.
Instead of patrolling, the kids had ended up just kind of standing around on Tazuna's lawn while Kakashi and I talked. Maybe they'd ended up sending Naruto's clones around?
"What was all that about?" Naruto asked as I approached.
"Kakashi-sensei didn't look happy to see you," Sakura added, giving me a shrewd look. "And what was that about you knowing Kakashi-sensei?"
"Testing for imposters," I said with a shrug. "Above your clearance level."
Naruto frowned. His eyes closed reflexively, "Well, then what was the kunai you gave me?"
It's your dad's? Eeeeh, no, scratch that. It's Kakashi's teacher's kunai? Mine too? Too many questions. I'd have to name-drop. Historical artifact!
You're not making very much sense.
I have no idea how long I am going to be here and I can't afford to give a bullshit answer that they see through.
"It's a part of that," I told him. To the entire team, I explained, "Ask your sensei if he feels like talking about it later. In the meantime, I'm going to see what you can learn before we have to fight Zabuza again."
"You're going to teach us an awesome jutsu?" Naruto immediately reversed his frustration and flipped to enthusiasm. Le oops.
"We have a week," Sasuke said flatly. "I can learn two jutsu by then."
"Of course you can, Sasuke-kun!" Sakura was so dialed into everything by Radio Sasuke that I wasn't sure she had her own playlist.
I raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh. How long have you all been shinobi, anyway? I never asked."
"Only one month, Keisuke-senpai," Sakura said. Her smile suddenly faltered as she went on. Also as I stared—my listening face looked a lot like a total blank mask. "But we've…we've been on lots of missions."
I must have let my disappointment show. Oops again.
"But this is your first C-rank, isn't it?" I crossed my arms, drumming my fingers on the inside of my arm. At this point in the timeline, the kids hadn't had much training at all. Chasing Tora only counted for so much, even if the cat was an ornery son of a…well.
The last time I'd taught anyone a basic shinobi skill, it'd been my brother. And my brother hadn't been under a time constraint like these kids.
I looked around the front of the house. Luckily, it was bordered by water, and I was pretty sure that water-walking would wear the kids out faster (and more safely) than tree-climbing. As long as I could get a few Shadow Clones out of Naruto before he exhausted his chakra, there wouldn't be any noticeable drop in the security levels around here. Tsuruya could handle anything he couldn't.
Unfolding my arms and instead placing my hands on my hips, I addressed the kids with, "How about I teach you how to walk on water?"
"Water-walking?" Kakashi asks the next day. He slept through most of the afternoon before, but he'd gotten his ability to walk back. If with crutches. Crutches represented progress.
He's sitting on the porch and watching his kids, who are watching Keisuke.
Tazuna's house sits nearly on the water, surrounded on three sides by a lagoon that stretches off into the distance. It's not a very large house—nearly everyone in the Land of Waves is poor thanks to the shipping monopoly set up by Gatō—but there are two stories, a porch that extends over the water, and (barely) enough space for all of them. If the walls hadn't been made of particle board and prayers, Kakashi might have felt more secure while dozing. As it is, there's a reason he's up and about even if he's limping.
This also means that he can foist teaching duty off on the nearest convenient special jōnin and concentrate on not needing crutches as quickly as possible.
Keisuke is walking around on the surface of the pond, barefoot, until launching into a cartwheel that somehow ends in a handstand. After a second, the special jōnin decides it's time to only use one hand. And then the fingers of said hand.
And then just the index finger, supporting Keisuke's entire weight, somehow keeps balance on the water.
Then Keisuke goes back to both hands and flips upright a moment later. Not even winded? Huh. Must be another endurance fighter, like Naruto.
"Why water-walking?" Kakashi asks, as (two of) his students clap politely. No one apparently hears him.
Well, Sakura does, but doesn't spare him more than a glance. Naruto's too busy bouncing in place. So maybe just one.
Said blond idiot decides to cut in, with a loud, "Is it our turn now?"
"Yep. Have at it," Keisuke says, and walks back over to the beach.
As Sakura takes a few cautious steps out onto the water (and Sasuke and Naruto take long strides that put them both in the drink almost instantly), Keisuke sits down on the porch next to Kakashi and says, "So, what'd you want to ask?"
Kakashi decides to change his approach a little. "So. Water-walking and not tree-walking."
"Was that what you were planning on doing?" Keisuke asks. The special jōnin doesn't seem nervous about possibly doing something wrong—more defiant, maybe. Kakashi doesn't ask why.
"Was." Kakashi tries stretching his legs a little and something in his left calf goes nope with a nasty flash of pain. Ow… "So, why'd you pick water walking?"
"Because they're up against a guy who uses Water Release." Keisuke says, looking back to where the kids have begun their misadventures. "And since this entire country—and the bridge—has entirely too much water around it, I figured they could at least figure out how not to drown."
"And I'm sure the chakra control is just a side benefit," Kakashi murmurs.
Keisuke shrugs. "If I got them to work on tree-walking, I'd be treating concussions all day tomorrow."
If Kakashi knows anything about Naruto, he has to admit that Keisuke has a point.
"Keisuke-senpai, Kakashi-sensei, I did it!" Sakura shouts from the water.
And then the effort of showing off disrupts her focus at the same time that both of her male teammates fall through the water and ruin the surface tension immediately around them.
All three kids in the drink at once.
"You might want to stand farther apart!" Keisuke yells at them as they come sputtering back to the shore again.
"I don't get this!" Naruto shouts back, flailing his arms wildly in frustration. "I just keep falling through!"
"Ask Sakura how she did it!" Keisuke responds, pointing at the sole kunoichi on the team. "If it still doesn't work, then ask!"
Kakashi watches as the orange-est ninja in the country walks over to his crush and tries talking to her. About stuff not involving the crush.
It takes him a full minute to get punched in the head; a new record.
"Do you need some kind of stimulant to get back on your feet?" Keisuke asks, eyeing him carefully.
Kakashi stares evenly back. "No. I just need time." In fact… He does some quick calculations of time elapsed, full capacity, and the recovery rate he's dealing with. Then, "I should be walking by this time tomorrow."
Keisuke nods. Then, "So, you're taking Zabuza."
"Unless you think you can," Kakashi says, giving the special jōnin a sidelong look.
"I'd rather take my chances with his sidekick," Keisuke replies, head shaking sharply. "Leave the veterans to the veterans." Keisuke pauses, freezing in place for just a second. Then, unbelievably, laughter starts to shake those narrow shoulders.
"I'd ask what you thought was so funny, but now I'm wondering if you're contagious," Kakashi says blandly.
"No, no, it's not"—the special jōnin takes a deep breath—"it's actually funny. Zabuza's about your age, right?"
"…Possibly," Kakashi allows. "Your point?"
Kei smirks. "Ten to one odds that that fake hunter-nin is my age."
Kakashi sighs and puts his hand over his face. "You're saying that we have a battle of perfect opposites." The only problem on Kakashi's mind at that exact moment is that if he bangs his head on a wall in frustration, he's probably going to need help to get back up again. Stupid crutches.
"We could. It'd be better to keep the genin out of this," Keisuke looks out over the water again.
Kakashi belatedly notices that the kids have managed to get dunked another four times or so. Mostly because of each other.
"I'll go sort them out," Keisuke says, standing up again. "You can have 'em back in a bit."
The fateful day arrived sooner than I really wanted it to. Thing was, life worked that way. Shit you're afraid of comes faster and faster, while stuff that's worth waiting for takes its sweet time.
In my particular case, I was kind of caught between both sensations. That meant that I got to blink and then the week of recovery time was over. One week of training (the kids), recovering (Kakashi's chakra), and doing basically all the work Kakashi would have (on my own), all down the drain in what felt like no time at all.
And I'd only noticed Haku secondhand that whole time, since Naruto had been woken up by someone he said was the prettiest boy he'd ever seen while training to exhaustion in the woods. Haku didn't kill Naruto, possibly because he was a softie, and instead let the blond wander back to Tazuna's house unperforated.
Which gave me some warning, though I'm sure no one intended that.
(Yeah, Kakashi got them started on tree-walking anyway. By that point, they weren't my problem.)
The fateful day dawned bright and early, and for some reason Kakashi made the entire team accompany Tazuna to the bridge. I guess he figured that since the week was up, Tazuna probably needed a heavier guard than a bunch of not-really-all-that-trained kids. I left Tsuruya at Tazuna's house to safeguard Tsunami and Inari.
(Inari got shut down by Sasuke this time. Not sure why.)
We got to the bridge and the stupid thing was littered with unconscious bodies. So, first clue.
And then the mist rolled in, because Zabuza's mist was a thing. I'm still not sure how well the guy could fight without fucking over everyone's sight.
"Keisuke?" Kakashi asked without looking, since he was too busy focusing on Zabuza. Since I stood opposite the still-masked Haku, the implication was obvious.
"Of course, Captain," I said, pulling a scroll loose from my right hip holster. Might as well put on a show.
"Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, you three are going to guard Tazuna with your life," Kakashi said, apparently ignoring my response entirely. "Only intervene if Keisuke-san needs help."
I scowled. "Appreciate the vote of confidence, Captain."
Kakashi's sole visible eye closed as he smiled under his mask. I didn't have to poke at his chakra to confirm that he thought baiting me was fun.
"Your little lackey isn't going to last long against Haku, Kakashi," Zabuza said, voice low and growly.
"Oh, I don't know. This lackey did pretty well against you."
I hid my face behind my right hand, equal parts irritated and embarrassed. Muffled by my palm, I said, "Can we just skip to the part where we kill each other?"
I felt Kakashi nudge my shoulder, as though he had just reached over to give me a quick tap with his knuckles. Probably had. "Go ahead."
I…didn't exactly see much point in charging. There was a pretty good chance that Haku was faster than me even before he busted out the Demonic Ice Mirrors. Not to the same degree that he was faster than Sasuke and Naruto, granted, but there was a gulf there that I couldn't bridge without some assistance.
The only question I had was whether said help would involve increasing my speed or just straight-up crippling Haku in the middle of the fight. If not before. What else were at-will explosives good for?
Haku also stepped forward. Well. More like shot forward—he was faster than I'd given him credit for and a whole hell of a lot faster than me.
If I hadn't been training with two Sharingan users and the freaking Yellow Flash since I first got my headband, I probably would have died right there. But because I had and I had a couple of clues about Haku's fighting style, well…
I met Haku's attack with the steel armguards I'd gotten from my Kakashi, hearing steel scrape against steel and draw sparks before I could pull out of the block. Haku didn't seem to know quite what he was doing—was he surprised that someone his age could keep track of him?
"Impressive." His voice was barely a whisper, but I heard it anyway.
Off to my right, Kakashi and Zabuza were apparently waiting for the other to take their eyes off each other.
Then Zabuza disappeared into the mist.
"Fifteen meters and"—here Haku tried to interrupt me by sticking a senbon in my throat, only to be blocked by a kunai—"closing on your three, Captain!"
There was a noise that sounded like two knives being sharpened as Kakashi found his mark.
And I needed to shove Haku toward the other end of the bridge. I needed a fake-out.
I had one. Kicking off and letting Haku think I'd lose him in the mist, I made hand seals and slammed my and Isobu's chakra into the jutsu. Luckily, it was one of those stupid ones that didn't need control as much as it needed a power supply, which I was happy to supply.
"Water Release: Water Trumpet!" Chakra twisted into water in my mouth, muffling anything I could have said after that, and a gout of water shot out directly in Haku's supposedly undetectable path.
My attack blew Haku right off his feet and back toward the incomplete edge of the bridge. I charged after him, wondering if he'd take the bait.
My jutsu also gave him more than enough water to start using the Demonic Ice Mirrors jutsu if he was in trouble. Which he was, I thought. I could keep up enough to react to his attacks and avoid getting badly hurt, I had more chakra than he did, and I could hit a hell of a lot harder.
Come into my web, said the spider to the fly. The only question was if I could turn that speed-magnification jutsu right back on him.
"Haku, stop playing around!" Zabuza snapped, sounding a bit strained. I guessed that Kakashi must have gotten him at least once. I'd be pissed, too.
Haku came to a stop right in front of me, and I watched with unbridled curiosity as he used a variety of unique one-handed seals—honestly, it would be fascinating if I could get him to explain his technique—and then trapped me inside a very crappy hall of mirrors. Worst funhouse ever.
I watched as he faded into one of the mirrors, saying, "So, is this the part where you kill me?"
"You are correct," Haku said, his voice coming from every single one of his reflections.
I grinned. "No. I'm sarcastic. And you're dead."
Isobu said, Ready when you are. In my mind's eye, Isobu drew himself up on his humanoid forearms, at attention for once.
Just as Haku drew back his arm for what might've been a kill-shot for anyone else—all of his reflections did it, too—my grin just got wider.
I caught a brief look at my reflection—my eyes were shifting to look more like Isobu's, gold rings on red—and felt Haku's chakra jolt in sudden shock that quickly started sliding downward into terror. And then I let loose with the chakra I had been, until that point, hiding neatly inside my chakra coils.
"Let's dance, kid," I said with Isobu's voice overlapping and distorting mine. I didn't need a tail to clean up around here. I could do it just in the initial form, unfortunately for Haku.
The mirrors didn't last that long.
Neither did Haku.
Kakashi turns toward the source of the demonic chakra almost before he realizes what it is, and so does Zabuza. Power tears out from the center of the ice cage, almost like someone inverted a tornado and set it spinning aimlessly. The animalistic chakra is practically hatred made solid, setting every nerve Kakashi has on edge.
And from Zabuza's body language, he is every bit as shocked.
And Naruto is back there—
Keisuke is a Tailed Beast Host. Has to be.
Kakashi watches the mist disappear in the wake of that blast of chakra, the ice cage shattering in midair a moment later.
Keisuke walks out of the debris, carrying Zabuza's apprentice over one shoulder, and Kakashi sees.
The special jōnin's eyes aren't dark anymore. They're a series of concentric red rings, with one gold ring in the center to show where the iris should be.
"Where the hell did you get this brat, Kakashi?" Is that a tremor he hears in Zabuza's voice?
Kakashi doesn't say anything.
"He didn't get me anywhere," Keisuke says, voice guttural and unnatural at best. He can hear the beast's voice harmonize with the special jōnin's, making a chill run down his spine. After a second, Keisuke lifts the hand not carrying Zabuza's apprentice and says, "And by the way… I come in peace."
Keisuke shrugs, raising only the shoulder not weighed down by Zabuza's apprentice. "So, we calling this a draw or am I just gonna wait until you two are done?"
Zabuza's teeth grind behind his bandage mask. When he speaks, his voice is low and furious. "Where did you get that power?"
"Not Yagura, if that's what you want to know," Keisuke says blandly. After a second, the special jōnin hurls the unconscious fake hunter-nin at Zabuza, who catches him.
"Not. What. I. Asked," Zabuza growls, one syllable at a time.
"Mission gone bad, somewhere around the Mountains' Graveyard," Keisuke replies. "There aren't any records, given that there was only one survivor. And he wasn't from Kiri."
Kakashi's blood runs cold yet again.
That can't possibly—
"Or maybe I'm wrong! Maybe there were actually four survivors." Keisuke makes a show of checking those excessive armguard for bits of wear and tear. "Maybe one of them got to go home a little different." The special jōnin shrugs. "But that didn't happen here, did it? Rin-chan died and Yagura became the Fourth Mizukage and the world went a little bit crazy."
"Is that what happened in the world you came from?" Kakashi hears himself ask.
"Sans like all of the detail, yeah. In fact…" Keisuke trails off, frowning suddenly. "Hey, wait…"
Just behind Keisuke's left shoulder, the air swirls without a trace of chakra that Kakashi can feel. After a second or so, the midair spiraling space-time mess resolves itself into someone about Keisuke's height, wearing an orange mask with an obnoxious smiley face drawn across it in black ink. He—or she—wears black in the form of an armored bodysuit that covers everything except a spiky black hairstyle and his toes, which are exposed.
Keisuke's response is an utterly deadpan, "So, you finally found me."
The person in the orange mask whines, "It's not my fault you grabbed the kunai at the wrong time! Honestly, Kei, we didn't even know where you were until the Three-Tails chakra went everywhere, and we had to hook up two sensing orbs to make any sense of it!"
And that voice…is very, very familiar. Achingly, horribly so.
Keisuke just sighs. "Come on, Obito. We'd better get out of here before Tobi realizes what's up."
"Tobi's in this world?!" Maybe-not-his-Obito yelps, looking around quickly. Then he seems to come to a realization. "Oh wow, then this is that weird future universe you told me about! Hey, that's this world's Kakashi, isn't it? When did he get tall?"
Kakashi doesn't say anything. Can't. Literally can't—his throat is closed up and he's frozen in place as surely as the carved heads in the Hokage Monument. That can't be Obito, he's…
Keisuke reaches over and whacks hopefully-not-Obito's shoulder.
He jumps a little, pauses, and then takes several long strides toward Kakashi. Keisuke turns away and stalks toward Zabuza and his apprentice.
Kakashi retreats half a step before he realizes he's doing it.
"Hey, hang on." Maybe-Obito reaches up and pulls his mask off.
And it is him, the same age Kakashi remembers or nearly so. The right side of his face is badly scarred—which makes sense, given the rock—and the mostly-unharmed left side of his face come with a medical patch over what Kakashi knows is an empty socket. And he's just grinning like an idiot, as though nothing leading to the aforementioned injuries ever happened. Like it wasn't Kakashi's fault.
"Kei, I'm gonna sit this fight thingy out and just talk to everyone, all right?" Obito calls over his shoulder toward the special jōnin. "I need to conserve chakra!"
"Sure, whatever! There's only one left anyway!" Kakashi doesn't even spare the effort to wonder what the rookie is talking about. Zabuza? Fights? Whatever.
None of that is as important as this is.
"Kakashi-sensei, who's this?" Naruto asks, and Kakashi blinks as though pulled out of a stupor. Right. Kids. Witnesses.
"What, no one talks about the great Obito Uchiha anymore? Geez, Kakashi, you've been holding out on them!" Obito is just as horribly tactless as ever, and Kakashi practically feels Sasuke bristle.
"Hey, I thought that Zabuza guy thought you were the last Uchiha," Naruto says to Sasuke in a stage whisper.
On that cheery note, Obito pushes past Kakashi with a grin firmly in place and says, "So, you're Kakashi's team, right?"
"So, long story short: there is drama behind enemy lines," I waved a hand in the approximate direction of Obito crashing Team Kakashi's party. He'll probably get killed by Sasuke or something. "I still wouldn't recommend trying to take us on right now."
Zabuza let out a sigh. He crouched over Haku's unconscious form, trying to figure out how seriously the smaller shinobi was hurt.
I knew how to put someone's lights out. He'd have a headache and a goose egg of a bruise on the back of his head for a while, but I hadn't been aiming to kill him.
Pretty much anyone else would have, I think.
"I'm surprised you let him live." Zabuza remarked, lightly slapping one of Haku's cheeks to see if the boy would respond.
"I'm a softie at heart," I admitted. "And I guess I don't really want to kill you. Not when I'm pretty sure the fight's gonna be invalidated in less than two minutes."
There had to be a reason for the constellation of little chakra signatures I could sense out on the water.
"Too bad I don't share the sentiment," Zabuza said. "I still want to kill you."
"That's your problem, not mine," I shot back. "Or is the Demon of Kirigakure too stupid to know when to cut and run? You're down an apprentice and there are three Konoha-nin here who can and would hand you your ass. Gatō's money cannot possibly be worth this kind of risk."
Zabuza laughed. "You think I don't know that? I'm waiting for a break here, and I'm not talking about you."
I frowned. "You mean you expect Gatō to backstab you? Guess you're not as stupid as I thought…"
"You don't stay a missing-nin for long without being able to tell when a contract is about to go bad," Zabuza spat. "And Gatō is going to make a mistake."
I glanced back out toward the water. "If I could make a suggestion…"
"He's out there, then," Zabuza said, not really answering me directly. But he did look in the same direction as I was. "Hah. You want me to scream for the sake of the ruse? Not gonna happen."
"It might be better just to pretend to be more injured than you are. No one in that group has good enough hearing to know what's going on until the mist goes away," I suggested.
Zabuza sat down next to Haku, and I felt him release the Hidden Mist jutsu. I mean, I could've dispersed it manually with a Wind jutsu and Kakashi would have been able to make Zabuza stay down in the sense that involved broken limbs, but it was nice that I didn't have to push at all. I mean, there had to be some point to the diplomacy tutoring I'd been getting back home. Maybe.
As though on a cosmic queue system, the next event in line proceeded to take the stage.
Gatō. Backed by maybe fifty barely-trained mercenaries who were a disgrace to the entire idea of sword-using thugs.
He might've said something about cancelling Zabuza's contract. Or that he never intended to pay him.
Between Zabuza, the implicit permission he could do whatever the fuck he wanted to his former employer, and the subpar obstacles in his way, and me, I fully admit to standing back and watching the master get to work.
Once everyone was dead, Zabuza wandered back over to me. Other than being covered in more blood spatter than before, he was pretty much in fighting shape.
"So, now what?" I asked.
"Now? Now I get Haku out of your way, pull off a hostile takeover of a shipping company, and never see you again." Zabuza snorted. "Seriously, though. If I ever see any Konoka-nin around here for any reason ever again, it'll be too soon. And I'm sure Konoha doesn't give a shit about this lousy little backwater as long as I don't pull the same things Yagura did."
"Somehow, I don't think that'll be a problem," I said carefully, looking at Haku.
"Whatever. Just tell Hatake he's not our problem unless he makes one," Zabuza promptly disappeared, with his apprentice, and I was able to wander back over to the rest of the group after I cleaned the bodies off the bridge.
So I might have helped install a missing-nin as a ruler of a tiny backwater country. So, the Land of Rice Fields and Orochimaru all over again.
"…and Kei told us stories, so I know what happened with the Uchiha clan," Obito says, gesturing widely enough to nearly smack Naruto in the face. "Which sucks, but it wasn't your fault or Kakashi's or the Hokage's or Itachi's, really. I know everyone hears the version where Itachi did everything but I'm pretty sure that about fifty percent of the thing—blame—falls on the guy Kei and I call Tobi. Pretty much nobody knows he exists, but he's also responsible for a lot of other crap. The other half of the blame is—Oh hi, Kei."
"If you keep giving out spoilers, their heads will explode," Keisuke tells Obito severely. "Or does this whole S-rank secret thing just not count in an alternate universe?"
"You did it first!" Obito shoots back.
"…True," Keisuke admits. "I won't tell if you won't?"
"Deal!" Obito beams.
"Hey, don't stop now!" Naruto shouts. "You're supposed to tell me who my parents are!"
Keisuke's face freezes up momentarily. Kakashi wonders, is it even possible that the little ninja knows exactly what happened to Sensei and Kushina-san? It shouldn't be possible—
But nothing about this last week has been in that category.
Keisuke and Obito exchange looks again. Keisuke says, "So, Captain. Stop me if this is actually going to break like eighteen rules. It might. It wouldn't back home, but it might here."
"That depends on what you know." Kakashi manages.
"…That's really vague, so let's just start with the thing about Naruto's parents." Keisuke gestures for everyone to sit down before doing so first, to set an example.
After a moment, Kakashi's team follows suit. Obito does, too, and he turns toward Keisuke with as much eagerness as Naruto did. Story time, said their faces.
"Naruto, your parents were Kushina Uzumaki and Minato Namikaze," Keisuke says, sneaking a glance at Kakashi. "They would have killed to be able to watch you grow up, and I know they're the kind of people who would've made great parents. They're still alive in the universe Obito and I come from, but there's not exactly a way to get…hm. Lemme get a sketchpad…"
Sketchpad retrieved from some hidden pocket, Keisuke commences drawing something with a tiny nub of a pencil while Obito sits back and rolls one shoulder to get the stiffness out.
Kakashi still can't really believe he's seeing this.
His new team of genin and his old team, at least in one universe, are together. Rin's gone and the midget-him isn't here either, but…
Well, at least Obito and Naruto get along like a house on fire. Sasuke looks like he's struggling with powerful emotions…or that he ate something spoiled earlier. Better check on that at some point…
Sakura just looks dumbstruck.
"What happened to you in this world, then?" Sasuke demands, apparently aimed at Obito. "When—when that man—"
"By the time that happened, this world's version of me was under like ten tons of rock in some Iwa-held backwater." Obito raises a hand to the pressure scars on his face. "You can probably tell I didn't get out of that one unscathed, either. But Kei was there, and things worked out eventually."
"Six months later, maybe," Keisuke mutters, scribbling furiously with Naruto leaning over her shoulder to watch her work.
"Yeah, pretty much! The Itachi Kei and I know is four and really tiny and I think he was probably told he had to take care of his new baby brother. Alter-you," Obito added, pointing out the stupidly obvious. "Which leads us back to the Nine-Tails attack Kei told me about and the first appearance of the guy called 'Tobi.'"
Kakashi asks, "So. Who is 'Tobi'?"
Obito pauses. "Um."
"The guy we call 'Tobi' is this world's version of Obito," Kei says without looking up. "He went violently insane sometime after Kannabi and after witnessing Rin's death."
The world crashes down.
…No. No. That's impossible! Obito wouldn't—
He would never—
No no no nononono—
Kakashi, vaguely, notes that he's shaking.
If I hadn't—
If I had—
Rin would still be—
Keisuke made it, why couldn't Rin—
I shouldn't have let her go!
It's my fault—Sensei, Kushina, Obito, Rin—
"You idiot." Obito's voice is way too close, what—
Obito punches him in the face.
"Kakashi, what happened to Tobi is not your fault," Obito says firmly, though he's staying out of Keisuke's range as best he can. The special jōnin does not look happy with him. "No one knew he was being played, not even him, and he never figured it out. He doesn't know the truth and he's an asshole and he needs to be stopped no matter who he was. I did. I was lucky."
Keisuke sighs. "We're on a time limit, Obito."
"Augh, I know! It sucks!" Obito stands up, frustration in every movement. "But remember that, Kakashi! If you have to kick alter-me's ass to hell and back, it's not your fault he turned out that way and he deserves the beating. He's a jerk."
Keisuke nods. "And…well, Rin and Sensei are still on your side, Kakashi. These kids might be, too. Just keep them safe, all right?"
Kakashi nods numbly.
"Steady on, Kakashi. There's a happy ending out here somewhere," Keisuke says. Then, suddenly, she smiles faintly. "And I have a quick secret, which might make you laugh a bit. Who knows?"
"Oh?" Kakashi manages to say.
Keisuke leans in, grinning. "I'm a girl."
Well. That's weird. Almost absurd enough to make him laugh on reflex, but not quite.
"Bye, Kakashi! It was cool to meet you! I hope you stop feeling like crap at some point!" Obito's final sendoff is, of course, about as dignified as the rest of him. Of course.
Keisuke tears the page off her sketchpad and threw it at Naruto.
And then they both vanish into a spiraling hole in the air, winking out of existence.
And that leaves him with three mini-ninjas to educate.
"Is...is this my mom?" Naruto murmurs in awe.
...Okay, so maybe it wouldn't be horrific. Still bad, though.
Luckily, I'd managed to dismiss Tsuruya at range before hopping onto the space-time carousel, or I would've had a lot of explaining to do once she found her way back through the space-time continuum. But she was dismissed on time and so I didn't. It would've been an awkward conversation.
To my mild surprise, we hadn't come back to the same training field I'd been booted from—instead, we were next to the thirty-fifth gate of the Forest of Death, on the inside of the fence. Barely, but inside nonetheless. Sensei's sealing equipment was everywhere, including five specialized tri-pronged kunai, a small seal altar, brushes, scrolls, and at least two bottles of ink. For a second, no one was in sight.
"…I just left a fucking Flying Thunder God kunai back there, didn't I?" I muttered under my breath as we reappeared in the bright Konoha sunshine.
"It doesn't matter, does it?" Obito let go of my hand and shrugged when I couldn't come up with an answer. "Well, whatever you did, we still got back all right."
As though the universe was out to prove Obito right, Rin jumped up from where she'd been sitting on the grass—other side of the fence—and shot over the barrier to hug us both. "Kei-senpai, Obito, you're back!"
"Yep. And I am never leaving again," I said, hugging Rin back fiercely. "That entire trip sucked."
"Well, it might help to keep out of testing range the next time we try experimenting with Obito's space-time ninjutsu," Sensei suggested from the other side of the fence, looking and sounding amused. And relieved I was back in one piece.
"How long was I gone, anyway?" I asked.
"Four hours," Kakashi said, finally announcing his presence from the top of the gate. He was pulling his headband down over Obito's eye just as I looked up. Huh. A sympathetic anchor…
Something something quantum mechanics. Ooooooh!
"Well, it was a week for me. And man, have I got a story for you," I replied, just as Rin pulled back. "Wanna hear it?"
"Sure, Kei-senpai," Rin said. "Later."
We walked back to Konoha proper with no more dimensional displacement accidents. I figured that was something to be grateful for.
Especially if it never happened again. Sure, canon was fun to watch, but I'd put in way too much time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears to get this mirror-verse to work. Fuck if I was gonna let anything keep me from reinforcing the brighter future I'd helped create.
"Kakashi, the version of you we met was even gloomier than you! How does that even happen?!" Obito suddenly demanded.
"How should I know? I'm not him. Thankfully," Kakashi retorted. "He was probably too stunned you showed up to get annoyed."
"Are you implying I'm annoying?"
"I'm not implying anything."
"ARGH, SHUT UP AND LET ME HIT YOU."
And the chase was on.
"Well, we had peace and quiet for all of eighteen seconds," I commented. "So, how was the weather while I was gone?"
"Don't start, Kei-senpai," Rin chided.